By Faranak Bakhtiari

Hope raises for precious biosphere reserves to survive

July 16, 2021 - 21:47

TEHRAN – Gorgan Bay and Golestan National Park are two precious biosphere reserves in the northern Golestan province, that have been endangered, however, the implementation of conservation plans in recent years raises hope for their revival.

Gorgan Bay and Golestan National Park, neighboring the Caspian Sea, play a vital role in preserving the ecosystem and the conservation of biological species, especially rare and endangered ones.
As a result, in recent years, important measures have been taken to solve the environmental issues or reduce the shortcomings of these important natural resources, although there is a long way to reach the desired condition.

Gorgan Bay
Covering an area of about 400 square kilometers, the Gulf of Gorgan also known as Gorgan Bay is the largest gulf in the Caspian Sea. It is located at the south-eastern shore of the Caspian Sea near the cities of Behshahr, Gorgan, and Sari and is separated from the main water body by the Miankaleh peninsula and extends until the Ashuradeh peninsula.

Increasing the water level of this water body in the past decades led to the prosperity and operation of ports including Gaz and Turkmen in Golestan and promoted relations with the Caspian littoral states.
Years later, uncontrolled water withdrawal of aquifers, reduced rainfall, and increased evaporation caused the drying up of Gorgan Bay.

For each centimeter decrease of the water level of the Caspian Sea, about one square kilometer of the area of Gorgan Bay has shrunk and many locals migrated to surrounding cities.

The significant decrease in the population caused some parts of the area to become the center of sand and dust storms posing a serious threat to the future of the green province of Golestan.

One of the serious damages to Gorgan Bay was the closure of the water transfer route through the water supply canals of the Caspian Sea.

Parvin Ghaffarian, director of the atmospheric sciences research institute affiliated with the National Institute for Oceanography and Atmospheric said that some people consider the lack of water release by Golestan dams as one of the factors for dried Gorgan Bay.

However, the only dam that leads to the Gorgan Bay catchment area is the Nomel Dam, which has a capacity of only seven million cubic meters, while Gorgan Bay needs at least one billion cubic meters of water to revive.

Mir Mohammad Gharavi, the former deputy governor of Golestan, also said that Gorgan Bay is drying up and this, in addition to quantity, has also affected the quality of water and has created many problems for birds and aquatic animals.

Over the last two years, about 50,000 migratory birds have died in the Bay due to botulism, and if there is no solution, it will have irreparable consequences, he added.

Industrial treatment plants should be established and sewage should be prevented from entering the bay. In addition, the three related canals should be dredged in order to provide the necessary water and oxygen to the bay, Hadi Haqshenas, the province’s governor said.

Accordingly, the revitalization of Gorgan Bay has given priority, and finally, the dredging of the water canals was approved by the Department of Environment (DOE), and hope was raised for the Gorgan Bay to survive.

Issa Kalantari, DOE chief said that by the end of this year (March 21, 2022), the canals of Gorgan Bay will be dredged for better use of water resources.

If necessary, a pumping station will be set up from the sea to Gorgan Bay to eliminate the lack of water flow, especially in winter, which causes the production of botulism toxin and prevents loss of birds, he noted.

Rehabilitation of Gorgan Bay, in addition to increasing bird population, strengthening aquatic reserves, and the prosperity of tourism projects such as Bandar-e-Gaz and Bandar-e-Turkaman, reduces the risk of dust storms.

Golestan National Park
The 92,000-hectare area of Golestan National Park, in addition to low funds and insufficient manpower that almost all areas of the country's environment are struggling with, is dealing with different problems, including overhunting, wildfire, illegal constructions, permanent loss of wildlife, and significant reduction of water and food resources, warming weather and drought.

It is home to one-seventh of Iran's plant species, one-third of all birds, and half of the country's mammals, hosting 1,350 plant species and 302 wildlife species. It has been listed as one of the top fifty ecosystems on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1930.

In recent years, in order to solve some of the problems, the government has determined an independent budget line for Golestan National Park since 2019, and after that, each year, the required fund is provided to the biosphere reserve separately from the provincial funds.

Another important problem was the occurrence of wildfire, which due to the fire large extent and lack of equipment and sufficient manpower, and on the other hand the impassable areas, several hectares of forests and pastures burnt each year.

One of the important plans devised to solve this problem is to equip Golestan National Park with technological advances for the early detection of wildfire and floods, by the DOE and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The pilot operation of which began a week ago, and it is planned to install more cameras and sensors to cover the area.

Installing fences, equipping the protected areas with fire detection sensors, surveillance drones, modern motorcycles, night vision cameras to detect and deal with illegal hunters are among the technological advances the ICT ministry plans to equip the area with.

Issa Kalantari said that Golestan is the first national park in the country, which has been managed for three years by a board of trustees consisting of NGOs, locals, and government officials of the province.
“During the last three years, with the management of the board of trustees, the wildlife population of this park has doubled,” he highlighted.

Mehdi Teymouri, head of the National Park said that currently, 13 protection stations and 4 active observation rooms are set up for the use of rangers and DOE forces.

He said that upgrading the vehicles, managing and reducing road conflicts in the national park, providing a garbage truck, setting up a center for visitors are among the needs of Golestan National Park.

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